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A Crime Against our Nation

A Crime Against our Nation
August 23
11:53 2018

Thousands of women in Belize are hit, beaten, raped, and in too many recent cases, even killed by their husbands or partners. More than half of these women and their children suffer in silence and fear. Violence against women highlights our governments’(past and present) failure to protect women and their children from further violence. Our Police have failed to deal adequately with complaints and to get serious about criminal prosecutions. We must urgently and forcefully call on the authorities to immediately implement tougher and more effective legislation.

Domestic violence is not only a crime against the victim. It is a crime against the state; and must be treated as such! Domestic violence is a burden on our society, it is an act of terrorism in our homes and communities and drastically affects the development of our nation. Criminals who hurt our women and children are costingthis country a fortune in terms of law enforcement, court cost, health care, production cost through lost labour and fuel cost. What begins as a‘simple domestic violence’ situation in homes, incubates hatred in some and acceptance in others[N2] . Domestic violence translates to the breeding of yet a new generation of violent criminals. Yet we wonder why our crime rate has sky rocketed.

Some will tell us that domestic violence and crime are global and not unique to Belize. We know that! Our concern, however,must be OUR TINY BELIZE[N3] . This problem is not only a socio-economic and phycological burden on our country. The danger is that its aftermath is far reaching. It is becoming a typical and accepted behaviour. Its impacts on women’s health and well-being…Its cost to individuals, to our health systems and to society areunspeakable.Yet no other major problem of public health has been so widely ignored In Belize.

Domestic violence is the most common form of crime against women. Women have too long been considered weak, vulnerable and in a position to be exploited. Violence can no longer be accepted as something that just happens to women. Yes, some men also suffer from domestic violence and that is also very, very wrong;the gender imbalance in domestic violence, however, speaks volumes…and the fact is, that in societies where women are underrepresented in the policy making system, women are often poorly equipped to protect themselves if their partners become violent. The fact is that battered women often find themselves trying to protect themselves and their children for both the abuser and the system that should have been protecting them. Men who beatwomen typically feel that they are exercising a right, maintaining good order in the family and punishing a woman’s lack of obedience or respect.

Very few women in Belize seek Police protection and even less seek court action. Complaints to the Police have many times been left unanswered, and political interference has proven deadly in recent cases.

Violence against women is a violation of basic human rights. It is a crime against the women, a crime against the state and a crime against humanity! It is shameful for our Government, which has failed to protect our women and has failed to punish these criminals! It is disgraceful for families, friends and communities who turn a blind eye and by so doing tolerate such abuse. Domestic violence must be eliminated through political will, and by legal and civil action in all sectors of society.

An effective response to violence must be multi-sectoral; addressing the immediate practical needs of women experiencing abuse; providing long-term follow up and assistance; and focusing on changing those cultural norms, attitudes and weak legal provisions that promote the acceptance of and even encourage violence against women. They undermine women’s basic rights to health, safety and wellbeing.

Domestic violence against women must also be recognized as a public health priority. Public health personnel can play a vital role in addressing this issue. The problem must be brought into the open through aggressive campaigns in all our schools, churches and public spaces and treated as any other preventable health problem. The best remedies available must be applied, much like what is done when dealing with epidemics.

I must reiterate that domestic violence is not just a crime against the victims. It’s a crime against the state! If a woman sustains serious injuries, especially if weapons are used to inflict injury, the state is obliged to open a criminal case. All over Belize, however, the victim has to file a complaint herself in order to obtain justice. Such practicesput victims of domestic violence at further risk as abusers often pressure women to drop the case with more beatings or threats to their or their children’s lives.

Women should always file complaints but the primary onus should be on the state to initiate criminal prosecutions in cases where there is evidence that a crime has been committed. The victim of domestic violence should be requested to be a witness.

Strong political will is needed and concerted action must be taken by the authorities against any politician that dares to interfere with the authority and decisions of our law enforcement officers! The state has a very serious obligation to protect its citizens, especially these vulnerable women and their children. The state has further obligations to protect our law enforcement officers from corrupt politicians who threaten their jobs in cases where they insist on interfering and protecting criminals!

Domestic violence is not inevitable and must not be accepted. It is up to our Government to live up to their obligations to prevent and investigate all acts of violence against women, to hold the perpetrators accountable, to ensure protection and reparation to the victims and to have a vote of zero tolerance for political interference of law enforcement!

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